'The demands of children are immediate A great American comic once said that telling your toddler he must not be jealous of a new baby because you love them both the same, was rather like telling your wife she shouldn't be jealous of your mistress for the same reason. But what do you tell the father of a screaming infant when he feels horribly rejected by his exhausted and harassed wife? What reassurance can he be given that she loves and desires him as much as ever, when the evidence of his own eyes is so obviously to the contrary? There he is, shoved aside in the marital bed to make room for an intruder, one who, moreover, is snuggled up against your breast - where he likes to be - and quite probably nuzzling it as well. He's trying to tell you about some corporate crisis at work, and how he overcame it, and you're only - at best - half listening or, at worst, actually dropping off to sleep. Meanwhile, he's busy wondering how his natty little two-door sports car was exchanged for a five-door tank filled with baby seats, mobiles and stickers. Is it any wonder that the poor chap gets a tad edgy from time to time? I exaggerate, of course. There's no shared happiness like that created by a new baby, no greater sense of wonder; and no greater sense of achievement as the infant begins to grow, smile, walk and talk, and generally become a successful, cheerful, well-adjusted child. I did it four times, and the sense of joy and wonder never faded. But truly, I got tired - terribly tired. And cross. And confused. And shouted a lot. My cooking - never cordon bleu anyway - took a nose dive and the chap who delivered pizzas became a family friend. The house was in chaos. Our social life died. And my poor husband stood right there at the back of the queue waiting (mostly) patiently for a few exhausted minutes when he could have scraps of attention from me. Inevitably, he too, got cross sometimes and shouted as well. And here lies the crux of a thorny question married women have faced since time immemorial: is it possible to be the Perfect Wife while you're trying to be the Perfect Mother? The fact is that when children arrive, women turn away from the husbands who have, up to that point, been the focus of all their nurturing and love and passion. The trouble is that children are more rewarding for women than they are for men. I'm sorry, the feminists can howl as loudly as they like, but it's true. Women usually want babies more than men do. We find them a more irresistible prospect, (I think it's called biology). We (usually) get more excited at the first smile, the first tooth, the first toddle. We (usually) cope better with the boredom, the mess, the racket; and we (usually) find the inevitable loss of income, freedom, and time for ourselves easier to contemplate. It does help hugely, of course, if the father enjoys it all too, in a sufficiently mature and selfless way and not just from a practical point of view. But fathers are born, not made, in my experience, and for every caring, sharing chap, showing pictures of the latest scan in the pub and earnestly sourcing organic carrots for the puree, there are a whole lot more feeling rejected and put upon and wondering where on earth the girl they married went to. Men love to be mothered and fed and watered like they were when they were little - and when their wife finds she has a real child who needs mothering, the result can be dreadful tensions in the marriage. For the woman, the demands of children are immediate, constant, and press all the right buttons - the ones marked "urgent". No one except a monster - or a mother from the Fifties, but we'll come on to her in a minute - could ignore a hungry baby, a whining toddler or a sick child. The demands of a husband, meanwhile, also press emotional buttons in a wife, but in stark contrast, they are the ones that say "in a minute", "not now" or even "for goodness sake, can't you see I've got enough to cope with?" Which, of course, you have. The point is that every mother wants to be a Perfect Mother. You wouldn't set out on the whole baby business if you didn't. It's the holy grail, the fallacy peddled by all those baby books, magazine and newspaper articles - for many modern women it has become more important than having a good career, indeed it is a career in itself. And if you fail at motherhood, having set out to create a domestic dream, you feel pretty damn bad about yourself. At the beginning, you see yourself as calm, smiling, loving, with lots of time to develop talents and interests, read stories and bake organic bread. You may well achieve something pretty close to that. Personally, I seemed to be stressed, scowling and always rushing out to the corner shop to buy a packet of sliced white. But the problem is that trying to be a perfect mother takes an inordinate amount of time. And energy.